A new survey of high school and post-secondary instructors has found that students who excel in the use of information and communications technology (ICT) are driving change in classroom instruction.

Dubbed “Power Users,” this “emerging group of youth distinguished by their self-directed, long-term, extensive experiences with technology” influence what and how teachers teach, have positively affected the way instructors learn about and use technology, and are generally helpful toward their classmates, the survey said. The study was carried out by Certiport Inc., a provider of technology training, certification, and assessment solutions, and the Education Development Center Inc. (EDC), an international nonprofit organization that researches and implements best practices in health and learning in 50 countries. The survey of 444 teachers and instructors was conducted in 382 Certiport testing centers over a seven-day period. The survey is a part of a larger, four-year EDC study being carried out in cooperation with Certiport. The research is designed to help educators better understand the strengths of these tech-savvy students and the implications of their presence in education and the workforce.

Power Users, as defined by EDC, are the savviest of the “digital natives,” a demographic of 10- to 15-year-old students who have grown up with digital technology as a part of their everyday lives. According to EDC, these students have technical acumen beyond any previous generation. They are characterized by their ability to “leverage the internet to the highest degree conceivable” and are energized by technology well past the point of most digital “immigrants”–that is, older learners forced to adapt from the analog age.

Power Users “are in tune with what is needed for success in the 21st century, exhibiting many of the collaborative learning, analytical thinking, and problem-solving interests that are sought by today’s employers,” said Joyce Malyn-Smith, director of strategic initiatives for education, employment, and community programs for EDC. Malyn-Smith said these students exhibit “engineer-level thinking we don’t normally expect [students] to have until they enter post-secondary engineering programs.”

Researchers aimed to establish the learning style preferences of Power Users, their influence on their peers, and their influence on their teachers. Among the survey’s findings: 69 percent of respondents believe Power Users influence what is being taught in the classroom, and 66 percent said they influence teaching methods.

Looking to tap into the technology know-how of their students, an increasing number of classroom teachers are forming partnerships with these students, turning to Power Users for research and to help integrate technology into their lessons more effectively, the survey indicates.

“Once these students discover how innovative they can be, they will help to redesign the learning ecosystem to embrace their skills and abilities,” Malyn-Smith said. “They are revolutionizing education.”

According to the survey, 48 percent of respondents said Power Users exhibit helpful behavior, and 55 percent said these students facilitate the learning of other students.

Teachers, meanwhile, are pairing these students with other, less technically advanced classmates in hopes that they will assume more of a leadership role and are encouraging them to share their breadth of knowledge with their peers.

The study also found that more than four in five teachers (84 percent) believe Power Users have positively influenced their own learning and knowledge of ICT.

Certiport and EDC say they plan to expand on their original areas of study to examine the human-behavior impact of Power Users, their performance and roles in the workplace, ideal learning environments and solutions, the sustainability of Power Users’ characteristics through life changes, and their impact on learning outcomes across the core curriculum.